DRMacIver's Notebook

COULDDO vs TODO

COULDDO vs TODO

RETRACTION (2020-20-15): I no longer think this post is as good an idea as I did when I wrote it. In particular the ideas.md file still seems to create a kind of obligation that causes negative emotional reactions.

I don't know about you, but I have TODO list anxiety. TODO lists feel like a giant pressure on me of endless and painful grind. I do not like TODO lists though.

COULDDO lists though? Those are great.

I was asked on Twitter the other day about my coping strategies for depression:

Hmm... So roughly it's:

1) Grind certain skills so that you can do them more or less on automatic. It's particularly important that you can do them without feeling emotionally engaged with them.

2) Use non-depressed periods to fill pipeline with ideas.

So for example I can read reasonably well while depressed. I can write these daily notebook posts even on my off days because it's stuff I've thought about quite a lot and I've got an ideas list. I can cook decent food while depressed because I've got a good library of basics.

The daily notebook posts were getting to be a bit of a struggle until I implemented ideas.md, a list of possible things I could write about.

As I wrote earlier you can't actually run out of ideas. I can keep that ideas.md file much fuller than my actual mental bandwidth and available time for writing posts, because putting entries in it is just idea generation and idea generation is easy. Here I have to do the hard work.

ideas.md is an example of a COULDDO list: It's a list of things that I could do, but that I have no obligation to do.

COULDDO lists are very good because they ensure that you avoid pipeline stalls, they help you maintain momentum: When you're feeling listless and not really sure what to do and nothing sparks joy, or you find yourself staring into space, you can look at the list of things that you put together and see if there's anything in there that you currently feel up to doing.

I also use this for dealing with brain fog days: I have a day plan which I write out on paper of things that it would be useful to get done. It's OK if I get to the end of the day and haven't done all those things. It's even intended. The paper goes into the bin. The purpose is to ensure that when I find myself in that "Oh god what should I do?" state there is a ready procedure to hand to fill that gap, rather than a default of staring into space or checking Twitter.